Police in St. Louis are using high tech license plate scanning and tracking (ALPR) systems to identify scofflaws and wanted individuals, according to this article in the Missourian.We’ve talked about this technology before, and this story has more interesting, and perhaps frightening details about the surveillance capabilities of these systems.
Locating stolen vehicles, identifying cars that might be associated with crimes, or drivers with outstanding warrants or probation violations, are the primary purpose of these license plate scanning systems.
But the how these systems actually gather data on everyone, and what they do with all that information is a source of serious concern for civil liberties advocates, as this article touches on.
Up to 3,600 plates per hour are scanned, stored in a database, and cross checked with law enforcement databases nationwide. Even if there are no “hits”, that data is kept, with time and location (by GPS) information of all cars that are swept up in the scan.
This means that data on your comings and goings very likely exists in a police database right now. And they can pull up that data anytime they wish, to find out where you may have been when you cross paths with one of these systems. And the more license plate scanners that are out there, and the more the databases are connected, the larger the government surveillance net database is.
The question all citizens should ask, is if we truly want the police to be gathering all this data, for use as a “backtracking tool”. Does this violate due process? Innocent until proven guilty?
These are questions worth asking, and unfortunately, they aren’t being asked. This is all happening with very few people actually paying attention. And once this system becomes standard everywhere, with scanners in every police vehicle, and even on public streets, it will be very hard to undo it.